"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hybrid Creatures


Assyrian Shedu from the entrance to the throne room of the palace of Sargon II at Dur-Sharrukin (late 8th century BC), excavated by Paul-Émile Botta, 1843–1844, now at the Department of Oriental antiquities, Richelieu wing of the Louvre.

Imaginary hybrid creatures have two main functions: they bring together the symbolic strengths of different animals; and, in the case of hybrids formed of two species from different elements, they represent the fundamental unity of existence. For example, the chimera - part lion, part goat, part serpent - symbolized the three divisions of the year - spring, summer and winter. To the minds that invented them, hybrids presented no inherent contradictions, because if all creation was interconnected, there was no reason why certain ingredients should not be permutated in new and different ways. There is much evidence that the ancients did not separate imagination and reality in the way that is habitual to us.If something could be imagined, there was a sense in which it must really exist.

In the great majority of cases, hybrid creatures carried a positive symbolic meaning. They inhabited a dimension that spanned this and other worlds, and thus could serve not only to help mankind in the struggle against dark forces but also to act as messengers from the gods and as sources of wisdom in themselves. Many Egyptian gods were portrayed as part-animal, part-human, and throughout the ancient world there was an belief in the power of the gods to change their shape at will in order to influence the world of humankind.

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Garuda 


Half-man and half-eagle, Garuda serves in Hinduism as the vehicle of the god Vishnu, and in Tibetan Buddhism as destroyer of the nagas or evil-doers. Devotees of Vishnu use images of Garuda, the enemy of snakes, as their emblem. The ferocity of Garuda as portrayed in Indian and Tibetan art is intended to serve as a warning of retribution for the enemies of the natural order. 


Sphinx


The sphinx existed in Egyptian mythology long before its representation in stone beside the Great Pyramid of Cheops. With a human (often female) head, the body of a bull, the feet of a lion and the wings of an eagle, the sphinx combines the four creatures that symbolize the four elements. The sphinx had access to all wisdom, and symbolized the riddle of human existence.



The Basilisk


The most terrifying of mythical creatures, the basilisk occurs in legends of East and West as a symbol of evil, lust and disease (especially of syphilis in 15th-century Europe). Its gaze was lethal, and anyone who fought it had to do so while watching its reflection in a mirror.



The Satyr


Nature spirits and followers of Dionysus (the Greek god of ecstasy, wine and music), the satyrs were half men and half goats. They originally represented the amoral, lazy and pleasure-seeking sides of human nature, but were later identified, in Christian Europe, with the Devil.



The Chimera


Dating back to the 5th century BC, the chimera is an ancient symbol of elemental chaos and the dangers of land and sea. It was a portent of storms, shipwrecks and natural disasters, especially volcanic eruptions, and appears in medieval Christian art as a symbol of Satanic forces.



The Harpy


In Greek mythology, harpies were female wind spirits, associated with the underworld and the flight of the soul from the body. They had the ability to summon winds, causing storms on land and whirlpools at sea, and were believed to be responsible for sudden, unexpected deaths. 



The Siren


The daughters of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, the sirens stood for feminine beauty in its most beguiling and destructive form. Depicted as birds with women's heads, they possessed beautiful voices which, heard above the sighing of the sea, lured mariners to their doom.



The Centaur


Part man, part horse, the centaur represents the wild, lawless, instinctual side of mankind. It is the antithesis of the knight, who rides (and therefore controls) the horse of the instincts. In Greek art, the centaurs were often shown ridden by Dionysus, an allusion to their amorous, drunken habits. However, Chiron, the gentlest of the centaurs, symbolized the healing powers of nature, and his skill with the bow represented nature's power and fertility.



The Mermaid


Sometimes thought to be hallucinations by sailors starved of female company, mermaids symbolize idealized, elusive feminine beauty, but also vanity and fickleness. Like all creatures of the deep, they stand for the unconscious, and in particular for the anima, the feminine aspect within the male psyche.

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